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16.06.2017, 12:17
Four direct duels for four tickets
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ROUND PREVIEW 1: The final EHF EURO 2018 Qualification round begins on Saturday with World Championship medallists meeting underdogs, and two Balkan sides entering the court with high hopes
 

Four direct duels for four tickets

Four of Saturday’s EHF EURO 2018 Qualification matches will confirm four more tickets for Croatia, with Vienna, Koper, Moscow and Oslo the focal points when the ultimate round starts.

Three of these four matches will be streamed live on ehfTV. At 19:30 hrs Norway face Lithuania, at 20:00 hrs Slovenia battle against Portugal and at 20:25 Austria play against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

GROUP 3
Spain vs Finland, Saturday 17 June, 18:00 local time

Alongside defending EHF EURO champions Germany in Group 5, EURO 2016 runners-up Spain are the only side with a clean record of 10 points after five matches. Since their victory on Wednesday, Spain are the confirmed group winners, and the only goal for Jordi Ribera’s team is to continue this series.

On the other hand, Finland are out of the race for the EURO after their 36:39 home defeat against the Austrians in Round 5.

Spain won the first leg against Finland by a 15-goal margin at 36:21, so even the fact that their current squad contains many youngsters does not change their role as favourites.

Austria vs Bosnia-Herzegovina, Saturday 17 June, 20:25 local time, live on ehfTV

As both are in second on four points, it is all or nothing for both Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Austria, who expect more than 4,000 fans for the match in Vienna, won the first encounter between these sides 23:22 in Sarajevo. A draw is therefore enough for them to finish second in the group and book the remaining ticket.

While the Bosnians lost their encounter against Spain on Wednesday, Austria took revenge in Finland and now control their own fate.

From a statistical point of view, Austria are the favourites, as their balance against Bosnia-Herzegovina is four wins, two draws and only one defeat.

The Austrian men’s team have only been part of two EHF EURO events – in 2010 as hosts they finished with a spectacular ninth rank, then four years later made it to Denmark thanks to two brilliant qualification matches, where they beat Russia and drew with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

On the other hand, Bosnia-Herzegovina hope to debut at the final tournament after contesting only one major international event, the 2015 World Championship.

Some Austrian stars are ruled out by injuries, but coach Patrekur Johannesson is confident: “Our attack was strong in Finland, though conceding 36 goals was disappointing. But we know that we will more stable on Saturday.”

GROUP 5
Slovenia vs Portugal, Saturday 17 June, 20:00 local time, live on ehfTV

Portugal have been waiting for their ticket to an EHF EURO final tournament since 2006, and now they are only one step away.

Despite losing the Round 5 duel against Germany 26:29 after a brave fight, they can make it to Croatia over an extremely high hurdle.

Due to their clear 33:20 win in Switzerland on Wednesday, Slovenia have the better goal difference compared to the Portuguese side, though they are equal on five points. Therefore, a draw is enough for the World Championship 2017 bronze medallists to qualify for Croatia.

The first leg ended in a draw Portugal (26:26) but the hosts of Saturday’s match are wary given their experience, when Slovenia sensationally missed qualification for the EHF EURO 2014 after finishing fourth at the previous World Championship.

“It is the last match of this season, and we all know what is at stake,” says coach Veselin Vujovic. “You cannot play for a draw, so we are out for a win.”

GROUP 6
Russia vs Montenegro, Saturday 17 June, 15:00 local time

With newly crowned VELUX EHF Champions League winner Vuko Borozan firing in 10 goals, Montenegro caused the biggest surprise of qualification Round 5 when they beat top-ranked side Sweden, who had won all four of their matches on the way to Croatia before Wednesday.

Thus, the Balkan side, who eliminated big nations such as Germany (2014) and Sweden (2013) in previous qualification events, boosted their confidence before the do-or-die duel in Moscow.

As they are currently two points ahead of the Russians, a draw (like the 24:24 on home ground in the first leg) would qualify Montenegro for their fourth ever EURO final tournament.

On the other hand, the hosts of Saturday’s encounter took their first victory on Wednesday with a thrilling 25:24 result in Slovakia that kept them in the race to Croatia.

Russia have never missed a final tournament in EURO history, dating back to 1994 – but to continue this series, they must beat Montenegro. One hope to make this dream come true is another Vardar Champions League winner, Daniil Shishkarev, who was top scorer with six strikes against Slovakia.

Sweden vs Slovakia, Saturday 17 June, 17:15 local time

After the defeat in Montenegro, Sweden want to make their fans happy with a home win.

Regardless of the result of the Russia versus Montenegro duel, a draw will mean Sweden finish on top of this group, earning them a place in Pot 1 or 2 at the draw event on June 23.

After two draws and two defeats, each of which had only a one-goal difference, the unhappy Slovaks are out of the race for Croatia, though they were on an equal level with Russia and Montenegro.

GROUP 7
Norway vs Lithuania, Saturday 17 June, 19:30 local time, live on ehfTV

All is set for the decisive duel for Group 7’s second place in Croatia, with Norway and Lithuania currently equal on six points. After sensationally beating the World Championship runners-up 32:29 on home ground in Round 2, a draw in Oslo will be enough for the Baltic side.

But Norway proved their strength at home by beating world champions France 35:30 at the beginning of May.

Sandor Sagosen & Co. must win to make it to their ninth ever EHF EURO in history. On the other hand, Lithuania want to end their 20-year wait for a EURO participation.

“We start at 0:0, though we are the underdogs. But we have shown our strength in this qualification, and why shouldn’t we take another point against Norway?” said Lithuania coach Arturas Juskenas.

France vs Belgium, Saturday 17 June, 19:45 local time

It was the second ever match for the new France coaching duo Didier Dinart and Guillaume Gille – and the November game in Liege nearly ended in disaster. Thanks to a late goal, the world champions claimed a lucky 38:37 win in the first leg against Belgium.

Later on, the Belgian side encountered more trouble, such as in their 27:43 defeat at home against Norway in Round 5.

On the other hand, another lucky and close 26:25 win in Lithuania granted France their EURO ticket. The 2006, 2010 and 2014 EURO champions still need at least a draw against Belgium to finish on top of the group – a result that should be manageable.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg
 
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